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The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

15 December 2010

The art of the holiday letter

It's the time of year when people sit down to write a letter to someone far away. No, I'm not talking about Santa. Rather, I mean the letter some people enclose with their holiday greetings.

Some people hate getting holiday letters, particularly photocopied ones.

Others—like me—love them.

I love seeing how people's children have grown and changed, finding out about people's new hobbies and adventures they've had, and reconnecting with people who live far away. I feel so disappointed when I tear open the envelope of a holiday card and find nothing on the card but a signature, unless it's from a friend I communicate with often.

I've been preparing our holiday letter this week and so have been thinking about one should include and what one should leave out, which led to the creation of this set of guidelines:

How to Write a Holiday Letter or Note That Shauna Will Enjoy

  • DO include at least one family photo.
  • DO mention important news, such as a new home, a new job, a new spouse, a new child, or a new serious illness or surgery in the family. Don't forget divorces and deaths. It's embarrassing to meet up with a mutual acquaintance and learn from them that your house burned down, you were widowed, you changed your sex, or your dog was Queen of the Barkus parade.
  • DO update news left unresolved in last year's letter. If your cat was missing in last year's letter, in this year's letter I'd like to find out whether she ever came home.
  • DO give a specific detail or two for each event you mention. For example, for our vacation this year, which was a long weekend in Long Beach, I mentioned that we stayed on the Queen Mary ship, which has been partly restored, and that we went to the aquarium, which had many rays, some of which visitors were allowed to touch.
  • DON'T include political rants. I already see too many of those on Facebook and in my email.
  • DO tell me about your children and grandchildren and remind me what grade they're in now.
  • DON'T limit your news to "important" things. If you've started growing rare varieties of pansies or taken up the bagpipes or snake handling, I'd enjoy hearing about it and seeing pictures.
  • DO include the full and correct names of your new books and CDs. If they're not available on, please tell me how to find them. Modesty stops being a virtue when it forces your friends to spend a lot of time tracking down your stuff.

Are you a holiday note lover like me, or do you say, "Bah, Humbug!" when you open a Christmas card and a letter drops out? How do you think holiday letters could be improved?

07 December 2010

World Fantasy Con: Panels

In addition to Mary Robinette Kowal's talk on "How to Give an Effective Reading," which I mentioned in an earlier WFC 2010 post and which she expands on at her Website here, I attended six panels. Here are some of the points made and opinions voiced.

Before proceeding, I invite you to get a snack and something to drink and find a comfy place to sit, because this is a long post (but easy to skim, if you prefer).

 Fantasy as a Rejection of the Present, Walter Jon Williams, Theodora Goss, Nancy Jane Moore

  • J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were living in a war era; they were living in an unsatisfactory present, so in their writing they looked back to a more appealing era.
  • Daniel Abrahams was quoted as saying that genre fiction addresses some particular anxiety and fixes it. In sf, the fear is, "oh, God, won't anything ever change?" A panelist suggested that the core fear in fantasy is, "oh, God, won't things stop changing?"
  • The Victorian Era is a time of rapid change, the beginning of modernity, with advertising, modern manufacturing techniques, women riding bicycles, and other shocking innovations. It was also an era of design nostalgia; people were building many Gothic buildings. (I'll strengthen their point by adding that there was also a revival of Renaissance design in building and that both Gothic and Renaissance elements were strong in American and English furniture. French furniture of the time also copied styles from the past, particularly the eras of Henri II, Louis XIV, and Louis XV.)
  • The 1990s was a time of nostalgia for earlier forms of sf.
  • Some writers may reject the past as any better than the present and instead look for alternatives by creating new futures.

The Fairy Tale as a Specific Form, Gabe Dybing, Delia Sherman, Leah Bobet, James Dorr, Terri-Lynne DeFino

  • In the mid-18th century, there were French, English, and German versions of "Bluebeard" with the same plot but different details and meanings.
  • Every culture has its own tale structure and rhythm, even though the stories are often similar.
  • Sherman said that many tales are unknown today because they conflict with our cultural values. These include stories in which children have agency, stories in which women have agency (such as rescuing their boyfriends), and stories from nondominant cultures.
  • Jane Yolen wrote modern fairy tales that were new, not retellings, such as "The Girl Who Cried Flowers." Like traditional fairly tales, these took place in unclear places and times. By being detailess, they become universal.
  • Dorr suggested that anyone writing modern fairy tales will probably draw elements (archetypes?) from various old tales.
  • What is a fairy tale? All fairy tales are about survival. Most involve people entering a world whose rules they don't understand. DeFino said that at its core, a fairy tale is a moral wrapped in a story. Bobet said that all good stories have a kernel of moral.
  • Sherman said that the difference between a myth and a fairy tales is that myths deal with large issues and fairy tales with smaller issues. She also said that the mythical tale follows the hero's journey.
  • Are fairy tales fantasy? This discussion was a little muddy, so I'm not sure whether the panel reached a conclusion or agreement. If you attended this panel, please comment on what you thought they decided.

The Story Cycle vs. The Novel, Suzy Charnas, Scott James Magner, L.E. Modesit, Dennis McKiernan, Mette Ivie Harrison

The panelists were uncertain whether they were supposed to be discussing different kinds of book series or comparing novels with single books that collect related stories. Most of the panel consisted of definitions and examples given by each panelist.

  • Charnas said that in a story cycle, each story in the book can stand alone and pointed out (as did some other panelists) that a story cycle sometimes starts as separate short stories that are later combined into a single book.
  • McKiernan defined a story cycle as a long series of novels with the same characters and said that a story cycle requires an overarching theme. In terms of single books, he said that a novel has one ending, but each story in a story cycle has its own ending.
  • Harrison agreed that each story in a story cycle can stand alone and that the author, when combining them, may need to write new stories to fill gaps in chronology. She thinks story cycles are more literary and doesn't think they sell as well.
  • Modesitt said that a story cycle builds to a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. A story collection is merely the sum of its parts.

The Continued Viability of Epic Fantasy, Blake Charlton, John Fultz, David Coe, David Drake, Freda Warrington

This was the panel I was most interested in and took the most notes on.

Definitions of epic fantasy

  • Fultz: Epic fantasy is big in scale and scope, whereas sword and sorcery is more individual.
  • Coe: Epic fantasy takes place on an alternate world and has an extended arc (multiple books) and numerous plot threads
  • Charlton: Epic fantasy does not have to do with saving the world—although he admits that he had trouble selling an epic fantasy that didn't involve world saving.

Is epic fantasy viable?
Drake pointed out that 72,000 hardcopies of the new Brandon Sanderson–Robert Jordan "Wheel of Time series have been sold. He said this proved that epic fantasy was viable and everyone could adjourn to the bar.

But what about new writers?

  • Coe argued that a long-running series may not reflect the viability of first books of epic fantasy. He asked whether new writers need a different structure.
  • Warrington: Writers need to adhere to at least some stereotypes of fantasy. She said that new authors often get a publisher push for only the first volume of a series. In response, she now writes stand-alone novels that are related but do not need to be read in order.
  • Charlton: He has only one book of epic fantasy out so far. He wants his books to be like a pebble skipping and touching down across a river so that they are related but independent.

Current trends

  • "Chihuahua-killing fantasy"—books that could kill a small dog if dropped on it—is out. At Tor, they want shorter epics than in the past. Coe said his first book in the mid-1990s was 200,000 words; his current epic fantasy is coming closer to 100,000.
  • To keep books shorter, authors are cutting the number of plot lines or viewpoint characters.
  • In contrast to Tor, the length of Baen's military sf books depends on each author.
  • In Britain, the market is smaller, has a more limited range of types of books, is less open minded, and less tolerant, according to Warrington.
  • So far, epic fantasy has not sold well in graphic novel form.
  • The drive against "chihuahua killers" has come from Barnes and Noble and Borders. They have a fixed number of pockets in their stores, and as a result they can stock and sell more small books than big books.
  • Epic fantasy is doing better now than five years ago.

For another, more amusing take on this panel, see Heather Albano's blogpost of 11 November.

Sword and Sorcery, Scott Andrews, Martha Wells, Howard Jones, Patricia Bray, Jonathan Oliver

The panel first differentiated between Tolkienesque "high" fantasy and S+S, saying that S+S:

  • is faster paced
  • uses middle- and lower-class characters instead of royalty
  • contains fewer characters and less politics
  • has more adventure
  • is more fun

They then examined the appeal of S+S, which they said derived from its:

  • better accessibility than long epic fantasy
  • fun factor
  • tendency to draw the reader in immediately
  • cool worldbuilding in places you probably wouldn't want to go
  • ability to be "brain candy" when a reader is in the mood for something quick and easy
  • more-experienced heroes
  • grittier nature
  • sense of wonder

S+S has evolved over the years. Today, you can find in S+S:

  • more female characters
  • new settings such as Africa and China
  • nonwhite main characters
  • more multilayered humor
  • no right-wing politics (Readers, do you agree?)

The most controversial part of the panel was its list of current S+S practitioners, and I'm curious whether my blog readers think these authors should be categorized as sometimes writing S+S: Terry Pratchett, James Enge, [somebody] Ambrose, Nathan Long, C.L. Werner, Holly Phillips, Chris Willrich, Barbara Hambly, Saladin Ahmed, Michael Moorecock, Gay Sieboldt, and Carl Edward Wagner.

Among S+S authors who have not received enough attention, they listed Richard Ford, Harold Lamb, Clark Ashton [Smith], Charles Saunders, Tanith Lee, and Barry Hughart.

They listed Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Black Gate as the magazines friendliest to S+S stories.

If you're interested in the definition of S+S, I recommend this long post at SF Signal for a range of definitions from writers and editors.

Hang on, Faithful Reader, only one more panel to go!

The Moral Distance between the Author and the Work, Eric Flint, Nancy Kress, Kathy Cramer, Jack Skillingstead, Paul Witcover, Scot Edelman

This panel dealt with ethical questions such as, Is it moral to read books by immoral people? Does it matter whether the book is good or bad? Fiction or nonfiction? What if the text has no trace of the immorality of the author (that is, it has a lot of moral distance)? They started by defining the concept of moral distance, which means how closely the moral views of the character mirror those of the author.

Different panelists had somewhat different views, but the general consensus was that there's no reason to criticize adults for reading whatever they want to read:

  • Kress: Everyone should read whatever they want to read without regard for the character of the author.
  • Flint: He agreed, but added that it makes a difference to him whether the book is fiction or nonfiction.
  • Edelman: There are a lot of books in the world, so one doesn't have to read an author one considers immoral. (Does that mean he sees no value for anyone in reading, say, Mein Kampf? That didn't come up.)
  • Cramer: She pointed out that great artists such as Picasso and Degas used prostitutes as models, and some were underage, but no one cares. In the art and painting world, moral distance is a nonissue.
  • Flint: If someone doesn't read your books because of your politics, your response should be, "Screw you."
  • Kress: The character is not the author.

Flint and Kress brought up the issue of suppression. There has been social pressure, for instance, not to allow Harry Potter books in schools. Both of them believe that no one should draw the line of what is moral and immoral to read for others. However, the panelists conceded that this stance gets murky when the reader is a child, and the discussion explicitly focused on adult readers after that.

Lastly, the panelists discussed how much of the creator goes into the creation. They concluded that an author's body of work gives you some idea of his or her character; a single piece can't. Sometimes, as in the case of H.P. Lovecraft, the author's moral failing (xenophobia in Lovecraft's case) is what the reader enjoys about the author's work. They also emphasized that readers need to take into account their chronological distance from the author; one has to look at the work through the lens of the morals of the time.

Kress concluded by saying that there are two types of readers:

  • Readers who want to read only things that confirm their beliefs
  • Readers who are willing to have their beliefs challenged and their world view expanded

For those who didn't get enough WFC atmosphere and dispersed wisdom from my posts, here are a few other places to read about WFC 2010:
Heather Albano here (registration), here (fantasy gun control), here (epic fantasy), and here (meeting a favorite author).
John DeNardo at
Mark R. Kelly at LOCUS online
Nancy Kress here, here, here, and here
Emily Jiang here and here

03 December 2010

Why you should apply to the Clarion Workshop this year

As of 1 December, the Clarion Science Fiction and Writers' Workshop opened to applications for the class of 2011.

Here's the official announcement:

Clarion is widely recognized as a premier training ground for aspiring writers of fantasy and science fiction short stories. The 2011 writers in residence are Nina Kiriki Hoffman, John Scalzi, Elizabeth Bear, David Anthony Durham, John Kessel, and Kij Johnson. Each year 18 students, ranging in age from late teens to those in mid-career, are selected from applicants who have the potential for highly successful writing careers. Students are expected to write several new short stories during the six-week workshop, and to give and receive constructive criticism. Instructors and students reside together in University of California at San Diego campus apartments throughout the intensive six-week program.

Application period: December 1 – March 1. Applicants must submit two short stories with their application.

Workshop: June 26 – August 6, 2011.

So why should you consider applying?

  • You'll learn how to critique other people's writing and thus your own.
  • Your writing will improve amazingly.
  • You'll make several friends for life.
  • You get to spend six weeks on a tree-filled campus immersed in writing—no cooking, no chores, no noisy children or demanding pets, nothing at all to prevent you from living and breathing writing.
  • You'll have the most fun one can possibly have while being severely sleep deprived.
  • You'll find out whether you truly want to be a writer.
  • Being a Clarion grad opens doors for you and gives you a professional connection to dozens of professional sf/f writers (and writers in some other genres as well).
  • Your life will change forever.

Yes, Clarion is pricey—nearly $5000 this year. (That includes tuition, private room in a three-person apartment with kitchen, Internet service, and three meals per day at the dining hall, as well as a parking pass if you take your car.) Some scholarships are available.

However, if you truly want to be a professional or semiprofessional writer, Clarion is worth the money. In essence, it leapfrogs you and your career several years ahead of where you'd be otherwise. And if you discover that the writing life is not for you, then you can stop wasting time writing and get on with what you should be doing with your life.

If you have any questions about Clarion, feel free to post them in the comments or email me at ShaunaRoberts [at] ShaunaRoberts [dot] com.


Coming soon:

  • final report on World Fantasy Con 2010 (yes, really, truly)
  • author interviews with Kimberly Todd Wade and Valerie Frankel

14 November 2010

Interview with debut fantasy author Terri-Lynne DeFino

Terri-Lynne DeFino’s first novel, Finder (Hadley Rille Books) debuted in November. This adventure fantasy tells the story of a young man with a talent for finding lost things and the runaway slave a client hires him to find.

Welcome, Terri, and congratulations on the release of Finder!

Thanks, Shauna! It’s a pleasure to be here.

What genres do you read most? Who are your favorite authors?

In the past, I read fantasy almost exclusively, which is why I joined a book club seven years ago. It forced me to open up my reading habits to include some great stuff being published that I’d have never known about.

For my favorite fantasy writers, there are way too many. I’ll stick to those whose books I will buy when they come out, without even knowing what they’re about first: Jane Yolen, Guy Gavriel Kay, Patricia McKillip, Robert Holdstock (before his demise), and C.C. Finlay. I’m trying to steer clear of friends! But I have to add Kimberly Dahl Vandervort in here, because I loved her work before I loved her! And I’ll read anything she writes.

As for mainstream, I only have two authors who qualify to the above criteria: Jonathan Safran Foer and Tracy Chevalier. They have yet to disappoint.

Are there certain themes or topics you’re drawn to in your writing?

I am a sucker for redemption. Give me that grand sacrifice, that big moment of gut-wrenching change, and I’m mush. I am also driven to include women’s issues and the injustices with which we are too often (and still) facing.

What writers have had the greatest influence on you?

When I was a child, Rahl Dahl was a huge influence. I was a dreamy sort of kid. His work spoke to me on a level most adults didn’t. I trusted him completely.

Lois Lowry taught me the power of words, of how they can evoke strong emotion without flourish and word acrobatics. (The Giver)

Guy Gavriel Kay taught me that good and evil depends upon whose eyes one is looking out of. (Tigana)

The biggest influence, however, has to be Jane Yolen. Most of what I have of her work is in the form of children’s picture books. I used to read to several classrooms at the local elementary school. Her books held clutches of small children in rapt attention. It was like watching a spell being cast, and when I closed the book, that moment of perfect silence before the children came back to themselves. THAT is magic. That is the magic of words.

How important have your writing friends been in your development as a writer?

Wow. They’ve been integral to my development as a writer. I’ve never had much luck with in-person writing groups here at home. I attended a writer’s retreat back in 2002 that turned into a yearly retreat that continues to this day. My Viable Paradise tribe has been the backbone of my writing life since 2006. We’re a community of writers that I couldn’t possibly function without.

And then there is Livejournal. I’ve met some really amazing writers there, and in fact, without Livejournal, I’d not have been following Kim Vandervort’s blog during her publishing process with Hadley Rille Books. And now I have my Hadley Rille Books family, people I count on, who count on me. I can’t even fathom how I ever got along outside of a writing community. Now I have three!

One thing I really enjoyed about the book is that the second half of the book takes place eighteen years after the first half, allowing us to see how the choices the characters made worked out and how these choices changed them. How did you come up with the idea to do that?

The original question was whether, in the end, Ethen could really turn Zihariel in for the rest of his money? I knew the answer, and how it would come about, but that answer didn’t lead to a conclusion so much as another question: So what happens then?

The consequences of Ethen and Zihariel’s decision is the real story, and that came as somewhat of a surprise to me during that planning phase.

In Finder, one of the characters says: “…life is a spiral of events that comes around again and again but never the same way twice.” That describes the book pretty accurately, I think.

What is your writing regimen? Would you recommend it to aspiring authors?

I write from 9:30–2:30 every weekday. There’s laundry mixed in there, the occasional cat-wrangling to oversee, but I stick to that schedule pretty strictly. It’s easier now that my kids are grown and I don’t have mom duties mixed in, but when they were younger, I stuck to that schedule unless something came up. If they were in school, I was at my computer. Mom shift started when they got home and didn’t end until they were in bed. Now, my time is my own. I know this makes me freakishly lucky. Most writers I know squeeze in an hour here, an hour there—if they’re lucky.

What I recommend to aspiring writers is this—write. A paragraph. A page. Whatever you have the time and the brain power to put out, just do it. If you’re spending that spare hour noodling around online because an hour isn’t enough to get anything done, well—you’re never going to get anything done.

Do you have any other advice for my readers who are working on their first novels?

I do—and it’s this: It’s all about the story, not you. Don’t be afraid to edit. Your words are not sacred. Always accept criticism graciously. You don’t have to agree, but it will help you understand how others are seeing your work.
Also—write a second book. And a third. And a fifth. The chances of your first book being the one to sell aren’t all that great. Finder is—are you ready for it—my 24th manuscript. Yes, you read that right. I wrote 23 books that never saw the light of day before this one. I consider them my education. Finder is my diploma.

Do you have another book in the works?

Yes! A Time Never Lived, the sequel to Finder.

I’m happy you could visit my blog today, Terri! Good luck with Finder and your future books.

Thanks, Shauna!

You can learn more about Terri and Finder by visiting her her blog at Finder is available online from (hardcover, trade paperback, Kindle), Barnes and Noble (hardcover, trade paperback), and Hadley Rille Books.


Hadley Rille Books' fifth anniversary celebration is still going on, and there's still time to enter to win a Kindle 3G. Also, if you buy any title from Hadley Rille Books directly from its Website before the end of December, you'll get 10% off and and free shipping. For more details, see my blog post of 14 October.


Coming soon:

* final report on World Fantasy Con 2010
* info on applying to Clarion 2011
* author interview with historical fiction writer Kimberly Todd Wade

02 November 2010

World Fantasy Con: tidbits and trends

Random thoughts and information about the 2010 World Fantasy Con; summaries of sessions to come later.

Biggest inspiration to write more: I found out that my niece, who is majoring in genetics and has a double minor in psychology and English, still finds time to write every day and is doing NaNoWriMo this month.

Biggest awkward moment: Shortly after I and a friend had interrupted Guy Gavriel Kay's dinner to tell him how much we loved his books, I found myself in a "what do I do or say now?" moment, standing by the elevators waiting for an elevator with him. What is the proper follow-up behavior to gushing?

Best news for writers: Although many big publishers are in crash mode, I talked to several spec fic micropublishers who have survived and are expanding. They seem to be looking for a somewhat wider variety of books than the mainstream publishers, too.

Total number of free books:
I already took a heavy box of books to the post office, so I can't count them yet, but I would guess about three dozen.

Best free book scored: the new Brandon Sanderson book, The Way of Kings

Free book I most want to read after The Way of Kings:
Hell Can Wait by Theodore Judson. This book attracted my attention with the Roman soldier cover and kept it with its back-cover copy about a Roman soldier who finds himself 1800 years in the future trying to survive in modern-day America. This is a publication of mmicropress Edge.

Best career decision ever: Being a Clarion grad gave me credibility and instant rapport with all the Clarion and Clarion West grads I met.

Most discouraging statistic: A slush reader for Clarkesworld magazine said that its six slush readers each get 25 to 30 manuscripts per day to review. The magazine publishes only 12 short stories a year.

Best "I'm really a writer" moment: LOCUS magazine took several pictures of me! (And of many other people too, I have to admit.)

Worst feature of con hotel: One thousand writers on the Internet simultaneously overwhelmed the system and made it as slow as I remember 300 bps modems being.

Worst "I wish I'd known that earlier" moment: The con suite provided free breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. I didn't find out until Saturday night.

  • more steampunk (but not nearly as much more as I expected)
  • more zombies
  • fewer vampires
  • continued darkness in almost all spec fic books
  • better covers on small and micropress books
  • more authors at the booksigning
  • more readers, browsers, and buyers at the booksigning
  • more panels that dealt partially or entirely with humor
  • fewer parties than last year

31 October 2010

World Fantasy Con: Days 4 and 5

I mentioned in my last post how I met several interesting people at the booksigning. What I forgot to say was that I also sold several books and gave out bookmarks to people who were interested but not ready to commit. So it was a great signing all around.

My one con obligation for Saturday was to read for 5 minutes as part of the 9:30 pm Broad Universe "rapid reading." I read the scene of Like Mayflies in a Stream in which Shamhat the priestess first attempts to turn Enkidu the wild man into a civilized man by introducing him to bread and beer (two essentials of civilization according to Sumerian thinking). That was fun and good practice to talking in front of people. I was excited to meet two fantasy authors—Elaine Isaak and Carol Berg—whose novels I had read in September and enjoyed.

Saturday I was able to go to several panels, all of which were excellent. I think I'll save discussing them for future posts so that I can go into more detail when I'm less tired.

Some people came up to introduce themselves because they recognized my face from Facebook. Unfortunately, I embarrassed myself by not recognizing two people I've talked to many times on FB. It wasn't my fault, though: Their FB pictures were years out of date, and they no longer looked like their pictures. So if you're wondering what picture to put on your social media sites, consider choosing an up-to-date picture that looks like you.

My husband complained that my World Fantasy Con posts have had typos and misspellings. Please forgive any problems you stumble over.

I skipped going to any parties last night because the BU reading got out so late. I figured I would go to the parties tonight. When tonight came, though, it seemed more important to soak up some solitude and pack my bags so I can leave as early as possible tomorrow morning for the drive to my sister's.

This morning I went to a half-hour talk by Mary Robinette Kowal on how to give a reading. I'm not sure why the con scheduled this talk at the end, after everyone but four people had done their readings. It was a useful talk that will help me with future readings. The information from the talk—and more—is at her Website at

I don't usually go to readings, but Saturday I went to some because I knew the people. Paul Park read from a YA book he's writing based on Dungeons & Dragons as a way of interesting his son in his work. Edge Books had a two-hour reading-with-chocolate. I got there for the second hour, just in time to catch two new friends, Andrew Penn Romine and John Nakamura Remy, reading their zombie erotica stories with remarkable aplomb. The stories are in the newly published Rigor Amortis.

This afternoon I dropped off Clarion friends Heather Albano and Leonard Pung at the airport and then took my niece back to Ohio Wesleyan. OWU is about 40 minutes north of Columbus, and I had a beautiful drive through the countryside, which I hope to write about for my blog post at Novel Spaces on 5 November. Afterward I took a long nap, a perfect end to a con that could have only been more perfect if it had lasted longer.

30 October 2010

World Fantasy Con: Days 2 and 3

I wanted to go to panels at this year's con. Really, I did. So far I've made only two. One was on fairy tales and whether one can write modern fairy tales or make up new fairy tales, a question that seemedto boil down to, what is the function of the fairy tale and do we still need that function in the modern world. The other panel was very interesting, but I was sleep deprived and couldn't follow what was going on.

As usual, the bag of books was large, and I've doubled my stash by frequent checks of the reject table. I was so excited to open my bag and find an ARC of Brandon Sanderson's newest novel. I had so much wanted to buy it , but it was $30 or $35, so I decided to wait for the paperback. Still lots of dark fiction this year, but perhaps not as much as usual. Several books I'm veru excited about reading.

I haven't been through the dealer's room yet. I'm hoping to find some cool small press books there. I also haven't been through the art show. I spent much of of Thursday ferrying friends from the airport to the hotel, and today I went up to Ohio Wesleyan U. to pick up my niece, who's interested in being a fantasy writer. I had some commitments today, including the evening mass book signing, so I sent my niece off with some young people I knew and she had a fun time.

I enjoyed the trips. I grew up only 50 miles from here, so the scenery is familiar and conforting. The bitter cold, though, reminds me of a major reason left and never moved back.

The book signing was fun. I chose a good spot and had a good number of people passing by. Several stopped, lured in by the candy, and I had some interesting conversations and met interesting people, including two surprise meeting with Madeleine E. Robins, whose two fantasy novels about a swordswoman in Regency England I love.

I finally finished my obligations about 11:45 pm and headed to some parties in search of chocolate. It was already gone. So now I'm about to go to bed to get a little sleep before I get up early tomorrow morning to start the cycle all over again.

27 October 2010

World Fantasy Con: Day –1

After a short flight and a long flight, I arrived in Columbus, Ohio, and settled into the WFC hotel. The room is decent-sized with a nice view, but it's $9.99 a day for Internet service.

I was hoping to check in and get my registration materials tonight because the con starts tomorrow afternoon, and I'm spending the morning ferrying people from the airport. But the organizers weren't as organized as they expected, so no registration tonight.

I'll at least get unpacked and get a good night's sleep so I can be fresh tomorrow.

I should have more interesting news to report tomorrow.

20 October 2010

Interview with literary fiction author Zohreh Ghahremani

Zohreh “Zoe” Ghahremani’s second novel, her first in English, debuted in September. Sky of Red Poppies (Turquoise Books) is the story of the friendship between two young women coming of age in a politically divided Iran in the 1960s under the rule of the Shah.

Welcome, Zoe, and congratulations on the release of Sky of Red Poppies!

Thank you, Shauna. It is a pleasure to speak with you.

How closely does the story in the novel follow events in your life and your friends’ lives in pre-Revolution Iran?

This novel was inspired by a true story, and I have done my best to stay true to the events. However, it is a work of fiction, and I have colored many of the scenes and events so that the reader will remain interested and not find it too mundane.

Are there certain themes or topics you’re drawn to in your writing?

I love the innocence in my characters and enjoy writing in the voice of people who would not speak for themselves. During the past two decades, we have seen the rise of many good Iranian-American writers, some of whose work have become bestsellers. However, a majority of their novels revolve around personal dilemmas, and stories pertain to the changes brought about by the current regime. I left Iran years before the revolution and don’t share the same experience. Sky of Red Poppies is the story of a friend and the voice of the good people I left behind, a voice that longs to be heard.

What writers have had the greatest influence on you?

I can’t remember at what age I began to read stories, or to write them! All I know is that literature has always been part of me. Among Iranian writers, I’ve always enjoyed Hedayat and more recently, Saidi Sirjani. When I moved to the United States in early 1970s, I was drawn to the work of Anne Tyler, perhaps because we both put character before story?

When you told your husband that you had put your dental practice up for sale and were now going to be a full-time writer, what was his reaction? Do you recommend or discourage this surprise approach? Did you do anything before you stopped practicing dentistry to prepare for your new life as an author?

I’ve always been a writer-poet whose hobby was dentistry! My husband understood this. He also knew that I planned on being a full-time writer at some point, but maybe not so soon. A liberated man, he respects my decisions, even when his right-brain logic rejects them. He adjusted, changed jobs, and moved to California with me!

You write English better than most native English speakers. How did you develop your style and voice? Is it anything like your style and voice in Persian?

I learned English at a young age, but also took some creative writing courses at UCSD to learn the details of writing. I also joined San Diego Writer’s Ink—yes, “Ink” with a “k”—as well as a few read&critique groups for the needed support. However, I write from the heart and think the readers see that, no matter which of my two languages I use. There’s a good Persian poem that says, “A word that comes from the heart, has no choice but to settle into another.” I like to think that my heartfelt words settle in the hearts of readers.

What is your writing regimen? Would you recommend it to aspiring authors?

Only a writer knows how much hard work is involved in the creation of a novel. I write all the hours that I can, that is, when I’m home, when my other work is done, and if that doesn’t leave me enough time, I sleep a few hours less. If you can’t commit to writing, then you need to aim for smaller goals. For years I tried to be a dentist and a writer. Finally I had to choose because I found it impossible to focus on two goals!

Do you have any other advice for my readers who are working on their first novels?

All the inspiring clich├ęs you’ve heard were based on someone’s experience. Keep a few around your work area and let them empower you. Mine was, “Never lose sight of your goal and you’ll be sure to reach it.” How true that is, for I am now living the life I dreamed of when I was only eight!

When will your next novel, The Moon Daughter, come out, and what will it be about?

A very good teacher at Santa Barbara once advised, “Write what you know best!” As an Iranian woman, and a writer who wants to continue to write from the heart, the story once again revolves around what I know best. The Moon Daughter is 350 pages and has two parts. Part one, “Rana’s Story,” is about a woman living in Iran: her childbearing years, her womanizing husband, and her three-daughters-no-sons dilemma! Part two is Yalda’s story, a first-generation Iranian-American woman, having only seen the free world, looking into her mother’s—Rana’s—past and present and questioning her rights. Although this novel deals more with women’s issues, once again I’ve tried to be neutral to headlines and stay away from stereotypes. The Moon Daughter is ready for publication and I expect it to reach bookstores in the summer of 2011.

Zoe, thanks for visiting my blog, and best wishes for the success of Sky of Red Poppies and Moon Daughter.

Thank you, dear Shauna. I appreciate your time and interest. Good readers are what make or break a book. I’m thrilled at the way readers have embraced my Sky of Red Poppies and realize that the time some thought I wasted, was by no means wasted time!

You can learn more about Zoe and Sky of Red Poppies by visiting her Website at and her blog at Sky of Red Poppies is available online from, Barnes & Noble, and Turquoise Books.


Coming next week: I'll be trying something new: blogging daily from World Fantasy Con in Columbus, Ohio. The days will be busy, but I hope to post something on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (27 to 31 October).

Coming soon: Author interviews with:

* historical fiction writer Kimberly Todd Wade
* fantasy writer Terri-Lynne DeFino

14 October 2010

Win a Kindle 3G!

Hadley Rille Books is celebrating five years as a publisher of sf, fantasy, and historical fiction with a contest and a sale.

The contest prize is an Amazon Kindle 3G, a wireless ebook reader that weighs only 8.7 ounces (less than a paperback book), has a battery life of up to a month, can hold as many as 3,500 books, and has free 3G wireless. It retails for $189.00, but one lucky registrant will win one on 1 January 2011.

To enter to win the Kindle, please see the rules here:

During the sale, which goes through the end of 2010, all books are 10% off and shipping is free when you order them directly from Hadley Rille Books. This includes preorders of books that have not come out yet.

In addition, for each book you order from Hadley Rille during the sale, you are entered again in the contest.

Hadley Rille's goal for 1 October to 31 December is to sell 5,000 books. Take a look; you'll probably find something that intrigues you in their catalog, which you can find at

The cover pictures are all of new or forthcoming Hadley Rille books.

In other Hadley Rille news, people outside the United States can now buy Hadley Rille books too. They are available online now from Amazon's Canadian and U.K. stores and Boomerang Books in Australia.


Coming soon

Author interviews with:

  • literary fiction writer Zohreh Ghahremani
  • historical (or should that be prehistorical?) fiction writer Kimberly Todd Wade
  • fantasy writer Terri-Lynne DeFino

06 October 2010

A full-time fiction writer: my first update

When I became a full-time fiction writer (except for one small ongoing editing job) this summer, I promised you updates on my progress. Here's what I've learned so far on my journey through territories unknown:

Volunteering is good, but a writer should give favorite organizations money, not time. I drastically underestimated how many hours it would take to do a couple of volunteer stints, and I spent more time on them this summer than on writing.

I was really burnt out on my job. I didn't realize how tired I was of medical writing until I stopped and found I needed time to decompress and rest. That, too, cut into my writing.

Ideas come fast and furious when my brain isn't preoccupied with work projects. Now I need to learn to control the ideas. I started several short stories, but abandoned each as a new idea caught my fancy.

Having lupus really is, as the rules of thumb have it, like having an extra kid or a part-time job. I already knew I spent a lot of time filling prescriptions, going to the lab, taking meds, and going to doctors' offices, but I didn't know how much time until now. All that stuff is no longer a break from work, but an interruption of writing I want to do, and it's very annoying. There's little I can do about it, though.

I spent too much time trying to figure out a good exercise schedule. I discovered exercising in the morning cuts into my writing time too much.  I'm now trying to schedule exercise only at times I wouldn't be writing anyway.

To sum up, I didn't tear out of the starting gate like a greyhound, as I expected. More like a slump and then a collapse to rest. But I've picked myself up and am getting things done.

Total writing career accomplishments:

✥ One short story written, critiqued, revised, critiqued, revised, critiqued, revised, and almost ready to send out

✥ Started three short stories

✥ Jotted down ideas for several more short stories

✥ Answered interviews for two blogs

✥ Had long discussion with Hadley Rille Books' new publicist about marketing ideas for Like Mayflies in a Stream

✥ Fleshed out a historical novel; printed out Web research and bought several scholarly books on the time period and people involved

✥ Researched several short story markets

✥ Volunteered myself for panels at three conferences

✥ Created goals

I hope and expect that the coming three months will be much more productive than the past three. I've got most of the volunteer duties behind me, and I've rested and gotten beyond the burnout. I can take comfort in that I accomplished at least a few things.

My goals for the next three months are:

✥ Revise all my completed and critiqued stories and send them out to possible homes.

✥ Finish one or two new stories.

✥ Do a lot of background reading and brainstorming for my next novel.

✥ Start my next novel.

Your advice is welcome. Kicks in the butt as well. I am determined to be successful at this, but I am floundering more than I expected.


Coming soon: interview with author Zohreh Ghahremani

29 September 2010

Interview with YA writer Jason McCammon

More than fifty years after publication of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, most fantasies are still set in a Tolkienesque landscape. Jason McCammon breaks the mold in his first novel, a young-adult novel called The Ancient Lands: Warrior Quest: Search for the Ifa Scepter (Brown-Eyed Dreams), which is set in a land patterned after regions of Africa. He intends more books in “The Ancient Lands” series.

Welcome, Jason, and congratulations on your book Warrior Quest: Search for the Ifa Scepter!
 What draws you to writing for children?

I wanted the reading experience to be fun. Besides, the book was adapted from a screenplay of an animated “G”-rated movie. With children, there is still a magic element of imagination that I think many adults lack. I certainly didn’t want to create a great story that I think is very imaginative and leave the children out of being able to experience it.

What was your favorite part of writing Warrior Quest: Search for the Ifa Scepter?

I often think of a story in several pieces. So when those pieces come together, it’s really a good feeling. It’s almost like giving it life.

What writers have had the greatest influence on you?

I wouldn’t say that I am influenced by any particular writers, but by anyone who sets their mind to do something and does it. I’m a big fan of the human race’s endeavors and accomplishments. Just look around you at the things sitting around in your living room; you’re looking at people’s ability to create. You’re looking at something that started inside someone’s head.

Personally, although I still read fantasies with European-like cultures and landscapes, that setting feels a little tired and I now actively look for books outside that mode. Why did you choose to use a nontraditional setting?

I suddenly became aware that I too had never read any fantasy stories or seen any fantasy movies with African tones, themes, or people. I just had to ask myself, why not. I then decided to make one of my own to fill the void. Besides, what’s the point of being traditional when it comes to fiction?

What research did you do on African cultures, geology, and animal life for your book? Was it easy or hard to find the information you needed?

I did a lot of poking around into African mythologies. I also looked into various African cultures. But I didn’t want to be too specific about each one. You’ll find elements of Yoruba, Massai, and Ashanti, as well as others.

Also, I used these things as a platform for the story, not as a driving force. I wanted the story to be mine, my creation, but I also wanted the opportunity to introduce African elements into America’s reading. So it is meant to be more of an introduction than a history lesson. I am an expert on nothing but my own imagination.

What is the significance of scepters in Yoruba culture?

The priests used the scepters as a medium for divination. They used them to communicate with the gods. They could also be called a “tapper.”

What is your writing regimen? Would you recommend it to other writers?

I’m in a constant state of creating, everyday, all day. It’s always going on up there in my head. So I’m usually thinking about something for a while before I get to work on it. That’s because I’m usually thinking about it while I’m working on something else. I’m currently writing the second novel, but I’ve already spent a lot of time thinking about the third. While I was writing the first one, I was thinking about the second one, so I was thinking about it for a good six months before I actually started working on it.

What I would recommend to other writers is to write. It sounds easy and straightforward, but there are so many people out there who have been writing a book for years upon years but actually haven’t been writing a thing.

Also, write from your heart, from deep within it. Edit several times and be purely objective.

You’ve chosen to self-publish your novels. What do you see as the benefits and downsides of your choice?

It is so nice to be able to have control of your book and its future, to not have someone telling you to change this and that and pressuring you about schedules. At the same time it would be nice to have more money for marketing. Let’s also remember that big publishers know what they are doing when it comes to marketing. They have been there many times before and know where to be and when. I’ve spend so much time trying to learn about the “book business” that sometimes I feel as if my eyes are going to burst!

What other books do you have planned for “The Ancient Lands” series?

Well, the second novel is currently being written. It will be ready by next year. The first illustrated novel, entitled The Adventures of Farra and Bomani, is right around the corner and will be completed before this year is out. I had samples at the Harlem Book fair on Long Island in September.

Jason, thank you for visiting my blog today.

You can learn more about Jason and Warrior Quest: Search for the Ifa Scepter by visiting his Website at and his page on FaceBook. Warrior Quest: Search for the Ifa Scepter is available in paperback and Kindle format from and in multiple ebook formats from

27 September 2010

Contest winner

The winner of this year's birthday contest is CHARLES GRAMLICH of Razored Zen. Congratulations, Charles!

22 September 2010

Interview with writer and artist Steve Malley

Steve Malley’s new book, Crossroad Blues, debuted in August. In this suspense novel set in New Zealand, a harp-blowing drifter meets a revenge-driven woman and becomes entangled in her quest to find her best friend’s murderer. Meanwhile, the killer sets his sights on them.
 In addition, Steve’s first graphic novel, Leather Tales, is again available, now in electronic format.

Welcome, Steve, and congratulations on publication of Crossroad Blues!

Thanks for having me, Shauna. ☺

What was your favorite part of writing Crossroad Blues? 

The last few days of the first draft, when the end was coming fast and hard, and I couldn't get the words out fast enough. It was an exhilarating time. I couldn't wait to find out how the story would end!

What writers have had the greatest influence on you?

John D. MacDonald and James M. Cain, definitely. Gil Brewer. Joe Lansdale and Andrew Vachss. George Pelecanos and Elmore Leonard. Frank Miller and Jaime Hernandez. Dave Sim gave me the courage to tackle my first graphic novel and set the whole ball rolling.

Every character in Crossroad Blues is alienated from other people and from society itself, and even the landscape is unfriendly. Does this reflect your own history or view of life in any way?

Good question. To be honest, I hadn't seen that sense of alienation until you pointed it out. I intended Crossroad Blues as a modern-day Western, complete with evil rancher, a heroine with fire in her blood, and the quiet stranger who rides into town. That sense of isolation and alienation was completely unconscious.

Besides alienation, are there other themes or topics you’re drawn to in your writing?

I just try to ride the stories where they want to go. Often, in the beginning, I'm groping for colored threads in a twilight landscape. Most of what I find is usually wrong. By the end I've usually got a tiger by the tail and no way to control it. Theme and topic develop entirely on their own.

That said, some stuff does pop up again and again in my work: The morality of violence. Past sins returning to poison the present. The self-serving, untrustworthy nature of authority. Predators favoring victims at the edges of society because nobody gives a damn.

Why have you chosen to write in so many genres?

I'm not sure I have a choice. Whatever comes bubbling up out of that stinking marsh at the bottom of the basement stairs, I grab it and run. I see a character or two. A situation. Some scrap of emotion. It's not until I'm hips-deep in the story that I discover what I'm writing about.

LeatherTales (graphic novel/noir) was a meditation on violence and second chances wrapped around lesbian assassins taking on the mob.

Templar (graphic novel/adventure) was about a kid growing up in her father's shadow, told as DaVinci Code meets James Bond.

• The Serina graphic novels (graphic novel/erotica/autobio) were about my time in New Orleans and the pain of trying to love an addict.

Poison Door (crime/thriller) explores legacies of violence and cycles of abuse against the backdrop of a drug war and stolen children.

A Legacy of Teeth (horror) has family secrets leading to a zombie plague.

Blood and Skin (paranormal suspense) is very much about the past poisoning the present—with ghosts, revenants, black magic, and tattoos. I've just finished my last rewrite on Buried—in which a young woman returns home after a long absence and all hell breaks loose—and started writing a Steampunk adventure.

What is your writing regimen? Would you recommend it to aspiring authors?

For three or four years, I woke up early every morning and wrote at least a thousand words a day. Crossroad Blues was written during that period. It was great: three months to a first draft, then the rewrites.

Things changed. This past year and a half has been full of upheaval and opportunity, bad luck, blessings and trouble. I spent a lot of it with notebooks and a fountain pen, writing in snatches whenever I could. Lately, I've been doing most of my writing at night.

All I can say is, that damn story took another step forward every day.

My best advice for aspiring authors:
Keep. Fucking. Moving. Do not look back. Go forward to the end. No matter what, no matter when or where or how, keep writing ’til you hit The End.

You’ve chosen to self-publish some of your novels as e-books rather pursue a traditional publisher and paper books. Why did you do this, what expectations do you have for your e-books, and how did you choose which manuscripts to self-publish?

I've got a fantastic agent, Anne Hawkins of JHA Literary, shopping Poison Door right now. She'll also get first look at Buried and anything else I write that might suit her.

Thing is, she represents my literary thrillers. She doesn't handle graphic novels, horror, paranormal, action, erotica, or adventure. For that stuff, I'm on my own.

For a long time I wondered whether my “other work” would ever see the light of day. Thanks to the explosive growth of the e-book market, all those stories are able to find readers!

What other books will you be releasing soon?

Serina vol.1 is waiting for a new cover painting, probably next week. Templar will be out once I resolve some technical issues. I've got a couple more passes to make on Blood and Skin before that one's available. After that, probably A Legacy of Teeth. ...

There's a reason my blog is called “Full Throttle”! ☺

You are also a professional artist, illustrator, and tattoo artist. How does your artistic career help or hinder your writing?

On the one hand, it's like I've got this really wide pipeline to the unconscious: Stuff comes at me as fast as I can draw, paint, tattoo, or write it. On the other, like any other job it's a challenge carving out the time to write. The landlord wants his money no matter what's going on with my latest novel.

Steve, thanks for visiting my blog, and good luck with your e-publishing endeavors.

You can learn more about Steve and Crossroad Blues by visiting his Website at and his blog at Crossroad Blues is available in Kindle format from and in multiple formats from His re-released graphic e-novel Leather Tales is also available from and


CONTEST: My third annual birthday contest is still going on. Comment on last week’s post by 11 p.m. Pacific time on Saturday, 25 September, to enter to win your choice of a trade paperback copy of my historical novel Like Mayflies in a Stream or a $10 gift certificate for or Barnes & Noble (winner's choice).


Coming next week: interview with writer Jason McCammon

17 September 2010

Third annual birthday contest

To celebrate turning 54, I’m holding a birthday contest again this year.

To enter, comment on this post by 11 p.m. Pacific time on Saturday, 25 September. Any comment will suffice, but if you need a topic idea, I suggest telling me how you'd like to celebrate your next landmark birthday. Be inventive! Don't just say that you'll celebrate your 50th with a colonoscopy and an AARP membership; think of something cool! (And then I hope you'll do it.)

One poster will be chosen at random from a hat by my husband. The winner will receive their choice of a trade paperback version of Like Mayflies in a Stream (an $11.95 value!) or a $10 gift certificate for or Barnes & Noble (winner's choice).


Coming soon: interviews with authors Steve Malley and Jason McCammon

05 September 2010

I'm blogging today at Novel Spaces

Those of you who enjoy my grammar posts may wish to stop by the Novel Spaces blog and see my Sunday, 5 September 2010, post. I discuss the difference between grammar and style and how to know what style to use in the manuscript you're working on.

30 August 2010

Guest blogger: Linda Weaver Clarke

Today, I'm happy to host Linda Weaver Clarke, who was interviewed here on my blog a year ago. Linda's guest post discusses her decision to change from writing romance novels to writing mysteries with an intriguing twist: They focus on the growing problem of theft of archaeological artifacts.

Romance vs. Mystery!

by Linda Weaver Clarke

I have written five historical romance novels but have now changed to mystery. The writing process is quite a change and requires a completely different mind set. Writing a mystery is so different from telling a love story. With romance, you plan out the plot around the meeting of a couple. As you write, you develop some sort of charisma between the characters, making the reader feel excited that one day they're going to hit it off and fall in love. You, as the reader, know what the outcome will be.

But with a mystery, the reader is in the dark. The author has to come up with a plot solution that no one knows about until toward the end of the story and hope they haven’t figured it out. In a mystery, you may or may not allow your reader to know who the bad guys are, according to whether it’s just a mystery or mystery suspense. Do you know the difference between a mystery and a mystery suspense novel? In a mystery, when a knock is heard at the door, the reader doesn't know who's behind it. With mystery suspense, the reader knows who's behind the door and yells to the heroine, "Don't open the door!"

Anasazi Intrigue is the first book in a mystery adventure series called “The Adventures of John and Julia Evans.” It’s about a flood that takes out several homes in a small town, the importance of preserving ancient artifacts, and a few puzzling and mysterious events. Julia is a reporter, and when she finds out about a possible poison spill that kills some fish and neighbor's pets, she has a feeling that something isn’t quite right. Before she realizes what is happening, Julia finds out that this incident is much bigger and more dangerous than she thought. With dead fish turning up, a flood devastating a town, and miscreants chasing John and Julia, they have their hands full.

Artifact theft is an intriguing subject. In my research, I found that archaeological thievery is becoming more and more of a problem every year. Did you know that looting is second only to selling illegal drugs? While researching the second book in this series, Mayan Intrigue, my eyes were opened to the similar problems they have in southern Mexico. When an ancient ruin is discovered, it doesn’t take long for thieves to take it apart because the Mayas used astrological alignments when planning their cities. Looters have learned the layout of the Mayan cities so they know where to dig. With this knowledge, they can loot a sacred temple in a few days. I also found that artifact theft in Mexico has been taken over by drug dealers from Columbia. Since organized crime took over, there has also been an increase in violence.

Mayan Intrigue will be released on 30 August, and I’m having a week-long celebration with a book give-away at my blog at from 30 August to 6 September. To enter the contest, leave a comment and include your email address.

Mayan Intrigue is about the discovery of a priceless artifact that puts Julia’s life in great danger. While on assignment for the newspaper, John and Julia try to enjoy a romantic vacation among the Mayan ruins, but when Julia accidentally comes upon a couple of suspicious men exchanging an item, she turns and leaves but it’s too late. Before John and Julia realize what's going on, they find themselves running for their lives through the jungles of the Yucatan. To read an excerpt from each of my books, you can visit

26 August 2010

Double trouble: correlative conjunctions

In a previous post, I discussed coordinating conjunctions such as "and" and "but." Today's topic is correlative conjunctions, that is, the conjunctions used in pairs to link words, phrases, or clauses. The correlative conjunctions include:
• either . . . or
• neither . . . nor
• both . . . and
• not only . . . but also
• though . . . yet
• whether . . . or
• as . . . as
• if . . . then
• rather . . . than

Here are correlative conjunctions used correctly in sentences.

Both Joe and Bob are going to the con.
Neither Joe nor Bob plans to wear Bob's Klingon costume.
• Joe owns a pair of blue gauze wings with sequins, so he will dress either as a fairy or as a butterfly.
If Joe chooses to dress as a butterfly, then Bob will dress as a cocoon.
• Susan not only wants to wear Joe's wings herself but also is angry that he refused her plea to borrow them.
• Susan has not yet decided whether to wear Bob's Klingon costume or to sew a new costume.
• Joe would rather stay home than wear Bob's ratty Klingon uniform.

A few simple rules govern their use.

1. Use both halves of the conjunction. 

Examples of breaking this rule:

Neither Joe or Bob plans to dress as a Klingon. This is wrong because "neither" pairs  with "nor," not "or."

Susan not only wants to wear Joe's wings herself but is angry that he refused her plea to borrow them. This is wrong because "not only" pairs with "but also," not "but."

If Joe chooses to dress as a butterfly, Bob will dress as a cocoon. This is wrong because "if" pairs with "then." However, when the meaning is clear, many editors would consider it acceptable to leave out the "then" in an "if . . . then" construction.

2. The two halves of the conjunction should join equal and parallel parts of speech—two nouns, for example, or two prepositional phrases or two predicates.

This rule sounds easy, but in practice, it can be tricky to make the parts of speech equal. Examples of breaking this rule:

Susan has not yet decided whether to wear Bob's Klingon costume or stay home from the con. This is wrong because the first half of the conjunction introduces a prepositional phrase starting with "to," whereas the second half of the conjunction introduces a predicate. The solution is to add a "to" after the "or."

Joe plans to wear neither Bob's Klingon costume nor to wear last year's Superman costume. This is wrong because the first part of speech is a noun phrase, whereas the second is a prepositional phrase. The second "to wear" should be cut.

The study subjects included both 60 Alaskan husky dogs and 170 other breeds. This is wrong because "60 dogs" is not parallel to "170 breeds." One possible fix is, "The study subjects included both 60 Alaskan husky dogs and 350 dogs from 170 other breeds."

3. When "either . . . or" or "neither . . . nor" join subjects, the verb matches the second subject. When both subjects are singular, then the verb is singular, even though there are two subjects.

All of the following are correct sentences:

• Neither I nor my sister is giving the bride a gift.
• Neither my sister nor my brothers are attending the wedding.
• Neither my brothers nor my sister is attending the wedding.
• Either my sister or I am going to tell the bride why.

4. Correlative conjunctions join two elements. Exceptions to this rule can be made for most correlative conjunctions except "neither . . . nor" and "either . . . or."

Examples of breaking this rule:

On the day of the wedding, my sister plans to be either unavailable, unwell, or unhinged. This is wrong because the conjunction joins three elements. Also, it is impolite to attend a wedding unhinged.

Neither Joe, Bob, nor Cindy want to wear the Klingon uniform. This is wrong because the conjunction joins three elements.


Coming soon

  • guest blog post by Linda Weaver Clarke

  • interview with author Steve Malley

11 August 2010

A joining of equals: a look at coordinating conjunctions

The coordinating conjunctions—and, but, for, nor, or—are, when I am wearing my copyeditor's hat, my favorite parts of speech, for writers make few mistakes when using them.

cats and cushion covers (A comma after "cats" would be wrong.)

Coordinating conjunctions are conjunctions that join sentence elements of the same type (noun, predicate, clause, and so on) and weight (they do not join independent and dependent clauses).

I won't spell out the rules for using coordinating conjunctions. (If you have a question, feel free to ask in the comments.) Instead, I'll focus on the problems I most often see.

Tricky point 1: "including"

A list following the word "including" should contain "and," not "or":

• I bought groceries yesterday, including eggs, milk, and bread.

"Including" means that all of the items that follow are part of the whole. So "and" is the proper conjunction.

If you give a complete list of items, then do not use "including."

Tricky point 2: lists of options

The word "and/or" is not an error, but it makes your sentence clunk. Use "or" when you have a list of choices:

• Please bring ouzo, grapes, or cheese to the party.

The hostess does not forbid you to bring grapes if you bring cheese; she merely offers options. As in many sentences with "or," the idea is not to limit the choices to one item but to say that at least one item is needed. Save "and/or" for legal writing or other occasions in which you need a belt-and-suspenders approach.

When you need "or" to limit the options to one, try a construction such as this:

• You may have either plum sorbet or chocolate-covered ants for dessert.

Tricky point 3: punctuation of two elements

When two complete sentences are joined by a coordinating conjunction, always put a comma before the "and" unless the sentences are very short.

• Mary pieces her quilts by hand, but I prefer to use a sewing machine.

When you have two predicates (or two adjectives or prepositional phrases), treat them as items in a series. Two items in a series are never separated by a comma unless a misunderstand could result.

• "You were my last hope," the dragon said and blew his nose. (no chance of confusion)
• "You were my last hope," the dragon said, and cried. (Without the comma, the reader may think he said it and then cried it out.)

If you want or need to create a space between two predicates, rewriting the sentence is preferable to using a comma:

• "You were my last hope," the dragon said and then loudly blew his nose. 
• "You were my last hope," the dragon said. He pulled out a lacy handkerchief and blew his nose.
• "You were my last hope," the dragon said. He blew his nose.
• "You were my last hope." The dragon blew his nose.

Tricky point 4: nonparallel elements

When elements in a row are not parallel, do not treat them as a series. An example of this mistake would be, "The tomcat is long, white, and wears a pink rhinestone collar." This sentence is wrong because there are two levels of parallel constructions here: "long" and "white" are parallel adjectives, and "is long [and] white" and "wears a ... collar" are parallel predicates. (Also, tomcats should not wear pink rhinestone collars.) The punctuation should reflect these two levels:

• The tomcat is long and white and wears a pink rhinestone collar.
• The tomcat is long and white, and he wears a pink rhinestone collar.


Coming soon

  • correlative conjunctions (both . . . and, neither . . . nor, not . . . but, not only . . . but also, whether . . . or)

06 August 2010

Contest winners announced

Thank you, everyone who entered last week's contest.

The two winners of Kathryne Kennedy's The Fire Lord's Lover are:



Congratulations, carrots and Lana! Carrots, please send me your mailing address so that Sourcebooks can get your book to you.

Lana, I still have your address unless it's changed.

03 August 2010

Contests, clarity of mind, and other news

One of the many reasons I became a full-time fiction writer was to achieve the clarity of mind to write fiction. My clients' work occupied too much of my thoughts.

"If only I had the clarity of mind to think of a blog topic."

As I was swinging a machete through my jungle of thoughts to make room to think up a topic for this week's post, I jotted down various pieces of news. I now have a postful of news on contests, a new review of my novel Like Mayflies in a Stream, and other topics.

I did at last come up with a topic: clarity of mind. I'll post that Thursday, 5 August, at the other blog I write for, NovelSpaces. Please join me there later this week to share ideas on clearing the mind for writing.



There's still time to enter last week's contest to win The Fire Lord's Lover by Kathryne Kennedy. Two copies will be given away, courtesy of Sourcebooks Casablanca. To enter, comment on last week's post here by 11:59 pm Pacific time, Wednesday 4 August.

Congratulations to Steve Malley, who won my contest of two weeks ago. He chose my novel Like Mayflies in a Stream as his prize, and it is now crossing the Pacific to him.

If you are on Facebook, Therese Walsh is running her "Big, Fat 49-Author Contest" here. Forty-nine books are being given away to more than 50 winners. There are books for every taste, so it's worth checking out.



Like Mayflies in a Stream received a nice review from Books For A Buck at



Hadley Rille Books will release books three and four in its Archaeology Series this fall. (Like Mayflies in a Stream was the second book in the series.) Coming in September is Song of the Swallow by K.L. Townsend, set in China 800 years ago. Next up is Secrets of the Canyon by Ann Walters, set in New Mexico 800 years ago. Learn more about the series here.



interview with writer and artist Steve Malley